Wednesday’s submission of the “Save the Internet Act” is attempting to reverse a repeal of regulations by the Federal Communications Commission in 2017.
The bill, advised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday morning ahead of its reveal, is a continuation of attempts from 2018 to combat an FCC decision to repeal net neutrality protections. While the Senate passed a resolution to reinstate neutrality regulations, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives declined to carry on, something which the now Democrat-controlled version has decided to continue.
Today’s bill effectively seeks to reinstate the same sort of protections offered by the application of Title II of the Communications Act on telecommunications providers, namely requiring internet providers to act as if they are offering a utility, such as water or electricity. All traffic that consumers request must be handled evenly with no favoritism or discrimination for or against specific services.
The original rules, brought in under former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, were prompted by claims of internet providers having the capability to create “fast lanes,” striking deals with online services to offer the fastest possible connections to consumers, including providing priority for that service’s traffic. It was also alleged internet providers had the opportunity to throttle internet traffic from specific sources, slowing down the connection and making them less attractive to consumers.
The story so far
Following the introduction of net neutrality rules under former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, current chairman Ajit Pai suggested a rollback of the rules under a “Proposal to Restore Internet Freedom,” which was voted on and and set in motion in December 2017. The vote, which stopped internet providers from being regulated like utilities and freeing them to block, throttle, and prioritize traffic, faced a vast amount of opposition from major Internet companies including Apple, members of Congress, and other critics.
The Wheeler-era rules classified internet service providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act, which gave the FCC the legal authority to strictly regulate connections, such as by preventing the creation of so-called “fast lanes.” Pai believed the use of Title II was “heavy-handed,” and that the decades of development under a “light-touch regulatory approach” was good enough for consumers and the industry without needing extra regulations.
The vote prompted members of the U.S. Senate to try and overturn the FCC’s decision, a resolution that quickly gained backing to bring it to the floor for voting. While it did succeed in pushing the expiry of net neutrality protections from the original end date of April 23, 2018 to June 11, as well as passing the resolution with a slim margin of 52 for to 47 against via a forced vote, the effort faced considerable opposition from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, and failed to be picked up.
Even if the House of Representatives did pass the resolution, there would have been a high likelihood it could have been vetoed by President Donald Trump. The current White House administration has signaled its support for the removal of protections, making the veto almost certain to have taken place if it did proceed to that stage.
At the same time as the Senate’s moves commenced, attorneys general of 22 states commenced their own lawsuit against the FCC, arguing the FCC violated procedure with its rollback vote. The attempt to prevent the loss of the rules via the courts effectively ended in November 2018, almost two years later, with the Supreme Court deciding not to hear an appeal on the case.
The decision was mostly symbolic, as by that time, the net neutrality regulations that were preserved by a lower court before the implementation of the new rules in June that lifted the internet provider restrictions.
In an effort to work around the FCC’ decision to scrap the Title II elements and the lack of progress made by lawmakers to implement rules themselves, the state of California took steps to implement its own net neutrality regulations. In October, the Justice Department attempted to prevent the regulations from taking into effect, arguing internet providers “cannot realistically comply with one set of standards in this area for California and another for the rest of the nation.”
Four cable and internet provider organizations also stepped into the fray, with the American Cable Association, CTIA, NCTA, and USTelecom all suing to stop the law from commencing on January 1, declaring it a “classic example of unconstitutional state regulation. California ultimately agreed to delay the enforcement of the net neutrality bill, until courts resolved pending litigation pertaining to the FCC rollback.